Research Paper: Drug Abuse in Nursing Nurses

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[. . .] These are:

1. You dread going to work because the nurse on the previous shift often leaves you with incomplete charts and patients complaining about pain and lack of care. Often this colleague has worked in several hospitals in the last few years.

2. A nurse on your shift has become moody, takes frequent bathroom breaks, and no longer wants to socialize with colleagues. She or he is often late for work, late to return from breaks, and their hand-writing and organization have become sloppy and lacking.

3. This person becomes suddenly the best and most helpful nurse on the floor. Patients, hospital administration, and physicians all place their trust in him or her. Also, she or he often volunteers to work extra shifts or longer shifts and prefers working in acute-care or intensive-care units where drugs are frequently administered and keeping record of their use is harder to accomplish accurately (Cobb 2009).

Other indications of a person who may be abusing narcotics or alcohol include: pinpoint pupils or being glassy-eyed, smells of alcohol or makes excessive use of breath mints, gum, or mouthwash, falls asleep frequently or has trouble focusing, history of chronic pain from injury or recent surgery, has significant familial problems, often volunteers to administer drugs, incomplete charts, can be moody and isolated or high-strung.

There is a stigma associated with drug abuse and thus many nurses are unwilling to seek help for their addiction. They fear losing their jobs or having it written on their record and having their addiction follow their careers for the rest of their lives. Besides losing their jobs, people can also face losing their reputations, family, and friends (Copp 2009). For all these reasons, incidences of self-reporting of drug addiction by nurses to superiors are extremely rare. In the Shaw study, researchers found that nurses who went back to work in the medical profession after being treated for drug addiction "report more frequent and severe work related sanctions as a consequence of their chemical dependency, and these differences have clear implications for clinicians, administrators, and policy makers" (Shaw 2003,-page 569). With results like these, it becomes evident why those who had suffered from drug addiction would be less likely to seek treatment or to make known their previous addiction after rehabilitation. The ANA have recommended that hospitals and medical staff support rehabilitation programs rather than punitive types of punishment. The resolution of the American Nurses' Association is stated as the following:

Whereas, in ten states, nurses do not have access to programs that provide alternative-to-discipline during recovery; and whereas the development of multi-state licensure compacts underscores the need for consistent availability of alternative-to-discipline programs across all jurisdictions…Therefore be it resolved that the ANA will renew its commitment to the support of activities that improve nurses' access to alternative-to-discipline programs and promote member and affiliate actions that encourage the development and use of alternative to discipline in those states where they currently do not exist (Monroe 2008,-page 156).

The American Nurses' Association has tried to expand their reach to the other two states and have attempted to ensure that those who do become involved in drug addiction do not lose their jobs or face criminal charges, but are instead sent to rehabilitation programs and allowed to continue their careers. In 1990, the American Disability Act listed drug and alcohol abuse as a covered medical condition (Hrobak 2001). One of the problems with rehabilitation, however, is ensuring that the nurses who are affected with drug addiction are that many people do not complete the program. A study performed by the Los Angeles Times found that, within the state of California, more than half the nurses who enter rehab do not complete it (Tompkins 2009). "Some who fail at diversion are deemed so incorrigible that that board labels them 'public safety threats.'" In most cases, nurses who do not complete treatment are not allowed to continue practicing nursing.

Yet, in some cases documentation whether they have completed treatment or not is lost in the cracks of bureaucracy and the nurse, still under the thrall of his or her condition, returns to medical work without having kicked the habit. It should be required that individuals who have gone through drug rehabilitation be monitored at least periodically. This will ensure that men and women who have had drug problems in the past have not relapsed. When a recovering addict returns to a hospital, they can once again be put in a position where drugs are readily available to them. Opportunity and the stress of returning to the work environment, especially if that environment has become more restrictive since the individual's recovery, can trigger the same problems which began the person's problems in the first place (Maurer 2005,-page 589). Nurses who have once abused drugs or alcohol should be given random testing or at least limited access to narcotics or drugs until such time that their supervisors believe that the men and women have overcome the need for restrictions from these components of the job. Only when it is safe, should former addicts be allowed access to their former vices, if ever that occasion should arise at all.

In the past, addiction was misunderstood as more of a problem of a person's weakness regarding choice rather than a disease. In the modern era, addiction has been understood to be initially caused by choice but to denigrate quickly into disease. Drug addiction is a circumstance which needs to be treated, not punished. Because of the repercussions associated with being found a drug addict, nurses and doctors may feel reluctant to report suspected drug abuse to their superiors. However, as the New York State Nurses Association stated in their ethical model policy: "Employers have an ethical obligation and most have a legal mandate to report an impaired nurse to the appropriate legal and regulatory authorities in order to safeguard consumers…[nurses] have an ethical obligation to address impairment of a colleague" (Cobb 2009).

For those who are willing and able to break the habit and fight their addictions, there are resources available to provide aid to those in need. According to D. Raistrick (2008), "To a lesser or greater extent the success of all these policies hinge on health care professionals having a positive therapeutic attitude towards people with substance misuse problems to change" (page 58). The psychology of the professional therapeutic organization will have a direct correlation to how well the individual will respond to treatment.

Drug abuse in the nursing profession has reached epidemic levels. Currently it is believed that approximately one in ten nurses is presently abusing either drugs or alcohol. People who are addicted to drugs can be dangerous to themselves as well as the patients that they are supposedly treating. In some cases of drug addicted nurses, patients are not treated, medications are stolen, and paperwork and information is not given to the individuals who require it. It is easy to dismiss sloppy paperwork as a minor concern given the other potential risks to patients who are being treated by addicts, but it is actually very important. One example of a hazard to a patient is if a nurse who is under the influence of a substance administers a drug to a patient and then fails to record it. Another nurse could come in and administer another dose, leading the patient to overdose on the medication. There is also the possibility that someone who is intoxicated or high could misread a chart and administer the wrong medication to a patient. Simply stated, there are far too many risks to the patients in a hospital to allow staff who abuse drugs to continue work until they are treated. Patients in the hospital or in the doctor's office rely on the doctors and nurses to treat them and care from them and to make them well. A medical professional who is functioning under the influence is not able to provide the care that their patients need and deserve.

Works Cited:

Copp, Mary Ann (2009). "Drug Addiction Among Nurses: Confronting a Quiet Epidemic."

Modern Medicine.

Gnadt, Bonnie (2006). "Religiousness, Current Substance Use, and Early Risk Indicators for Substance Abuse in Nursing Students." Journal of Addictions Nursing. 17. 151-58.

Hrobak, Mandy L. (2001). "Narcotic Use and Diversion in Nursing." University of Arizona

Kenna, George A. (2005). "Family History of Alcohol and Drug Use in Healthcare

Professionals." Journal of Substance Use. 10:4. 225-238.

Maurer, Frances A. (2005). Community / Public Health Nursing Practice. Elsevier: Philadelphia,


Monroe, Todd (2008). "Procedures for Handling Cases of Substance Abuse Among Nurses: A

Comparison of Disciplinary and Alternative Programs." Journal of Addictions Nursing. 19. 156-61.

Raistrick, D. (2008). "A Survey of Substance Use by Health Care Professionals… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Drug Abuse in Nursing Nurses.  (2011, July 17).  Retrieved August 23, 2019, from

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"Drug Abuse in Nursing Nurses."  July 17, 2011.  Accessed August 23, 2019.